In a culture-rich country like India, long influenced by multiple traditions and religions, art and crafts are deeply rooted in an expansive array of techniques. Our art forms expand across different categories from sculptures to tableware and clothing, many of them specific to certain regions, adding another layer of richness. With one of the highest number of GI tags for Handicrafts in the World, India is home to the most diverse art and craft forms. We owe much of this diversity to indigenous people who unceasingly maintain the traditions that have led to the formation of an exhaustive market. Indian painting styles, in particular, reveal a history embedded in diverse geographic lineage and religious influences.
Certain common themes exist, taking from Hinduism and mythological influence and usage of natural colours. Beyond these, the art forms are highly distinctive in their approach.
Madhubani paintings, for instance, have origins in stories of not only Rama and Sita but also themes and motifs from local heroes and nature. These artworks employ natural colours which is a major identifier of Indian painting methods. Artists in the Mithila region of Bihar create these vibrant pieces by proficiently fusing religion with nature, geometric shapes and rich colours, which truly sets them apart.
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Another tradition called Pattachitra finds its home in local families of Odisha. These paintings also use products like conch for paint and animal hair for brushes. The painters are highly skilled and keep the tradition in the family. The fine details of their intricate strokes create spectacular images, often times those of religious deities Lords Jagannath, Krishna, and Ganesha. The craft village of Raghurajpur has most of its population – many of them award winning artists – dedicated in creating Pattachitra paintings. They can be as small as five-inch palm leaf paintings and as big as 12 feet paintings of Hanuman, with stories of Ramayana depicted all over his body.
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Most states in India bring something completely unique to the table. For example, Tanjore paintings have many distinguishing features that can be recognized easily. It’s not surprising given their features include gold, stones, glass and wood, all culminating together to form incredible 3D paintings,they give off an aura of royalty. These paintings too have cultural roots in mythology, most popularly depicting stories of Krishna. Tanjore paintings also feature natural materials like Jack fruit wood and pure gold foil. The end result of these relief paintings is a beautiful amalgamation of bright gold and vibrant colours.
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It is easy to find a pattern of religious imagery and symbolism in Indian paintings, but that doesn’t take away from the diversity of their outer appearances. Although modern variations are common amongst artists trying to make their way into a larger market, their original methods continue to be passed down and coexist with other evolving practices, adding to the diversity of Indian art. Such skillful talents are ingrained in our culture, a loss of which would be nothing less than tragic. It is crucial that we strive to keep them alive and relevant, whilst empowering the